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Best Asian Movies of 2017

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best Asian movies released on video in 2017!


SANWEI'S PICKS


Bacchus Lady
E J Yong uses the phenomenon of "Bacchus ladies," aged prostitutes who work out of parks in Seoul, as a starting point into the world of marginalized elders. Yoon Yeo Jeong is strong and sassy as ever as a representative of these elderly women who turn to prostitution to support themselves in a society that overlooks their existence and needs. While she struggles financially, the lonely men who seek her services suffer from physical and emotional health issues that drive some to seek death. Despite the grave subject matter, neither the film nor its heroine dwells in sadness and self-pity. Bacchus Lady often takes on a light tone when portraying how the tenacious protagonist straightforwardly takes each day and trouble as it comes. The lack of overt proselytizing and tear-jerking makes the film all the more realistic and sympathetic in its candid and multi-faceted portrayal of a population that has been left behind.



Dangal
Aamir Khan is the rare Bollywood star with the power to bring non-Indian mainstream audiences to cinemas. Of course, he's a huge box office force at home, but it's overseas box office, in particular Chinese, that bolstered Dangal into the first Indian film ever to gross over 2000 crore worldwide. Like 3 Idiots and PK, Dangal addresses meaningful issues in a uniquely Indian context, but appeals across cultures with its inspiring real-life-based story and socially conscious messages. Khan, who also produced the film, plays a more flawed character this time, a stubborn father who grooms his daughters into national wrestling champions. Mahavir Singh Phogat originally wanted a son and then, upon realizing that girls are just as good, authoritatively pushes his dream on his daughters. His unwavering belief in his daughters' strength and future, however, also resoundingly claps back against the patriarchal notions of his community. Beloved sports drama tropes apply with grumbling kids growing into gritty athletes through tough training, perseverance and the tried-and-true cycle of victory, loss and overcoming loss to win again. Strong performances from the actresses playing Geeta and Babita empower their journeys as athletes and as women who defy stereotypes and detractors to make sports history.



I Am Not Madame Bovary
Why is I Am Not Madame Bovary presented in circular image format for most of the film? Because Feng Xiaogang does what he wants and somehow gets away with it (most of the time). Besides being visually appealing, the film's whimsical use of aspect ratio and cinematography adds to the parable-like nature of the story. Based on a novel by Liu Zhenyun, Madame Bovary exemplifies the wily auteur's ability to mock Chinese society and authority alike. Red carpet queen Fan Bingbing glams down to take the unlikely role of stubborn village woman Li Xuelian, who refuses to accept that she's been duped into divorce. When the local court dismisses her petition to get the divorce annulled, she escalates her grievances up the bureaucratic ladder, eventually making trips to Beijing every year to bother central government officials. Xuelian's decade-long fight is farcical, but the response of the authorities is pure satire: Officials at every level try their best to deflect and placate her with empty words of sympathy while avoiding responsibility and action. Feng plays all of this with a straight face, making it all the more funny and snarky.



The Long Excuse
When the cheating protagonist of The Long Excuse suddenly loses his wife to an accident, he doesn't feel the tearful shock and sorrow of other bereaved family members, but the showboat novelist fakes outward grief for the camera. After he makes the kind overture of babysitting the kids of a fellow widower and develops a genuine attachment to the family, he shamelessly tries to turn the experience into self-promotion. Portrayed with perceptive detail by Motoki Masahiro, the shallow yet self-aware Kinugasa Sachio is not the easiest of characters to like, but there is a real and wonderful complexity to his pathetic affectedness and confused loneliness. Without the deceitful conflicts and dark undertone of her previous films, Miwa Nishikawa's simplest story is the hardest to pin down, but she demonstrates strong writing and directing in her delicate examination of each character's long, varied and deeply personal process of coping with loss and grief.



Mad World
Wong Chun's directorial debut about the struggles of an everyday man with bipolar disorder accomplishes the difficult task of taking on an important topic without any air of self-importance. Shawn Yue delivers the best performance of his career as troubled Hong Kong professional Tung, who doesn't look too different from his Love in a Puff character – except this quintessential Hong Konger is weighed down with the stress of satisfying the needs of work, family and a significant other. Veterans Elaine Jin and Eric Tsang are even better as his mentally unstable, emotionally abusive mother and the lost father unsure of how to help. When Tung cracks, it is as terribly jolting as it is acutely relatable. So is the uneasy reception he receives from apprehensive friends, unwilling employers and concerned neighbors. The film constructs a subtly anxious world around Tung's fluctuating emotions and experiences as he tries to restart his life after getting discharged from a mental health institution. Society isn't particularly welcoming and compassionate, but Tung is often his own worst enemy in this rocky journey of daily advances and setbacks that afford no easy answers or cinematic endings. Made on a modest budget that was possible because the stars forewent their usual pay, Mad World is remarkable for its restrained, realistic portrayal of mental illness in Hong Kong society.



Rage
Lee Sang Il gathers a top-drawer cast for a slow-burning suspense drama that uses a murder mystery to examine human trust. Like in the original Yoshida Shuichi novel, the film opens with an unsolved crime of rage that happens one afternoon in a suburban neighborhood, and then diverges into three threads set in different parts of Japan. As reports of the fugitive killer persist in the news, we're introduced to three suspects: a quiet new worker (Matsuyama Kenichi) in Chiba, a Tokyo city slicker's new boyfriend (Ayano Go) and a backpacker (Moriyama Mirai) in Okinawa. The three men and their unrelated stories become connected to the same crime as they gradually pique the suspicions of lovers and acquaintances. Only one (or none) of the men can be the killer, and the red flags are the same: outsider with secrets who resembles the wanted poster. Rage situates the mystery within a human drama about burgeoning bonds and unraveling trust. Short on definitive clues until near the end, the film instead plays on the characters' and the audiences' nagging unsubstantiated feelings of growing doubt that threaten to destroy new lives and relationships.



Shin Godzilla
Anno Hideaki and Higuchi Shinji as co-directors on a Godzilla reboot seems like a strange marriage that could go wrong in so many ways. Instead, everything went right in a textbook case of creative synergy. Higuchi brought his Attack on Titan and Sinking of Japan experience in world-destroying special effects spectacles, and Anno brought the writing and vision reminiscent of Evangelion. As such, Shin Godzilla delivers on both ends of the scale. You get visceral kaiju entertainment with an evolving Godzilla trampling through Tokyo and unleashing eye-popping inferno. And you get droll humor and political satire lampooning government bureaucracy and inefficacy, a not-so-subtle jab to the country's inadequate responses to recent disasters. Shin Godzilla shows that monster movies can be smart and smash things at the same time.



Tharlo
After premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 2015, Tharlo became Tibetan director Pema Tseden's first film to get a theatrical release in China in December 2016. Starkly shot in black and white, the film casts Tibetan comedy legend Shide Nyima in the role of the eponymous lone shepherd who lives in the mountains with his flock. The simple-natured man goes to town to get his government ID and becomes smitten with a young hairdresser he meets. Inexorably changed by the brief encounter, he feels lonely and restless after he returns to the mountains, and begins to act out recklessly with disastrous consequences. A quietly haunting parable with a powerful conclusion, Tharlo is true to Pema Tseden's commitment to depicting Tibetan culture and issues onscreen. The film's conflict of urban and rural values and disappearing ways of life in a changing society could also very much apply to many other regions of China.



The World of Us
Sometimes the simplest story yields the greatest reward. Yoon Ga Eun's debut feature tackles a problem frequently depicted in Korean films and TV series – school bullying – but it does so in the most naturalistic of ways. The humanist drama quietly observes two primary school girls: class outcast Sun and new girl in town Jia. Meeting in the summer, the two quickly become the best of friends despite their class differences. Once the school year starts, however, the friendship begins to fall apart as Jia joins the popular crowd and Sun reverts to pariah status. Capturing raw feelings of joy, anger, envy, guilt and hurt with heartbreaking honesty, The World of Us gently and effectively immerses into the complex emotions and interactions of children from their vantage points.



Your Name
Your Name isn't necessarily Makoto Shinkai's best work, but it is the film that best encapsulates what makes him so great: achingly beautiful animation, achingly heartfelt sentiments and mind-boggling leaps of imagination. His signature elements don't always come together smoothly (see: The Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below), and in his past works, he was often better at capturing a feeling than telling a coherent sci-fi story. With Your Name, the fanciful sci-fi finally falls in line with the wistful coming-of-age romance into an immensely likable story that tugs at your heart, makes you laugh with body swap hijinks, blows your mind with weird stuff, and manages to all make enough sense in its own context. Even the music video montages work because those Radwimps songs are so darn catchy. And, of course, the animation is so very beautiful that I wish I could live inside the film.



PISCES'S PICKS


29+1
While many women rush to meet the deadline of getting married before turning 30, stage producer and actress Kearen Pang calmly faced the big 3-0 and started a new page of life with her one-woman debut 29+1 in 2005. Twelve years after the stage play, the movie remake still resonates thanks to the highly relevant plot that vividly portrays the anxiety, frustration and conflicts of modern women. 29+1 guides audiences to take a fresh look at life and the age of 30 through the stories of two 29-year-old Hong Kong women, who view life with totally opposite attitudes. Marketing executive Christy (Chrissie Chau) enjoys success in her career but she decides to step down to escape the intolerable pressures from work, family and a frustrating relationship with her apathetic boyfriend. She moves to the apartment of optimistic CD store worker Tin Lok (Joyce Cheng), who embarks on her dream-chasing trip to Paris. While reading Tin Lok's diary, Christy begins to find a balance between living in the moment and planning for the future.



77 Heartbreaks
Forgiveness and compromise are the keys to a successful relationship, because everybody makes mistakes. In the Hong Kong romance 77 Heartbreaks, Eva (Charlene Choi) finds it hard to keep forgiving her longtime boyfriend Adam (Pakho Chau), and sets a quota of 77 acceptable mistakes. One day, after a little argument, Eva silently moves out of their apartment. Adam then comes across her diary and realizes the heartbreaking things he has done to Eva over the years. He becomes determined to correct his mistakes to win back her trust and love. However, when a relationship comes to an end, all kinds of mistakes can turn into the reason for separation. The number "77" is just an arbitrary rule in the game of love. Director Herman Yau and author Erica Li realistically portray the struggle to end a seemingly stable yet dull relationship through the resonant urban love tale.



Bad Genius
Exam cheating is usually considered a humorous element in high school comedies. Director Nattawut Poonpiriya sees the cruel truth behind the seemingly jokey idea in the thought-provoking Bad Genius, which delves into the score-oriented education system and class struggle in Thailand. Math prodigy Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is admitted to a high-ranking school where she meets her dim-witted friend Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan). She helps Grace cheat on exams but their secret is discovered by Grace's wealthy boyfriend Pat (James Supapunpinyo), who is willing to buy answers from Lynn. After recruiting upright scholarship student Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), the trio even plans to cheat on an international university entrance exam, putting their futures at risk in the process. Combining elements of heist thrillers and school comedies, Bad Genius arouses fear with a lighthearted tone in order to tell students to never compromise their integrity and to raise awareness of the country's deep-rooted social problems.



Her Love Boils Bathwater
Bathing in public bathhouses is a popular family activity in Japan. Following an opening scene about the temporary shutdown of an old public bathhouse, Her Love Boils Bathwater introduces different characters from broken families – including Kono Futaba (Miyazawa Rie) who lost her mother at a young age, her bullied daughter Azumi (Sugisaki Hana) whose father Kazuhiro (Odagiri Joe) has left them, and Kazuhiro's abandoned illegitimate daughter (Ito Aoi). Stricken with terminal cancer, Futaba is determined to reconcile her fragmented family in the little time she has left. She ferrets out her husband's whereabouts and brings him and his young daughter back home. Enlisting the help of her family, she also restarts the bathhouse business. The touching drama shows the power of a mother’s love and guides people to search for their happiness and the value of family.



House of the Disappeared
To Sir, With Love director Im Dae Woong rejuvenates the over-familiar time-travel genre by remaking the 2013 Venezuelan horror The House at the End of Time. Unlike other typical time-travel stories that take place in separate parallel dimensions, House of the Disappeared involves two overlapping worlds that occupy the same region of space and time simultaneously. Despite its complicated plot, the soul-stirring horror mystery continuously drops subtle yet important hints to guide audiences to solve the puzzle behind all the bizarre events. Twenty-five years ago, Mi Hee (Kim Yoon Jin) saw her husband (Jo Jae Yoon) get stabbed to death and her son snatched by a supernatural force in their house. She was convicted of their murders and sent to jail. When the aged Mi Hee is released from prison, she decides to return to her old house to find her long-lost son. A local pastor (2PM's Ok Taec Yeon) offers to help find out the truth behind her son's disappearance.



Luck-Key
A bit of luck may help increase one's chances of success, but determination is even more important for achieving success. Director Lee Gae Byok drastically rewrote the story of Uchida Kenji's comedy Key of Life for his remake to better bring out this theme and create a genuine comedic effect that is absent in the original. Luck-Key places greater emphasis on serious assassin Hyung Wook's (Yu Hae Jin) underdog success story, which strongly contrasts with unknown actor Jae Sung's (Lee Joon) apathetic attitude towards life. After a hilarious soap-slipping incident, the two swap lives. Hyung Wook ends up as an extra but he quickly turns into a top star thanks to his diligence. Meanwhile, despite his sudden wealth, Jae Sung continues a purposeless lifestyle that destines him for failure.



Show Me Your Love
Love is not just a feeling but also an action. This is what Malaysian director Ryon Lee came to understand when his mother was diagnosed with a muscle disease. Based on the poignant story between the director and his mother, the moving drama Show Me Your Love examines a parent-child relationship and the spirit of love. When teacher Daren (Raymond Wong) was young, his mother Lee Ho (Shiga Lin) had no choice but to leave him to clear her debts. Daren grew angry at his mother and even started a new life in Hong Kong. Years later, Daren returns to Malaysia to attend his aunt's funeral and re-encounters his estranged mother (Nina Paw Hee Ching). After learning that his mother has terminal cancer, Daren realizes that he has ignored her spiritual needs and decides to turn his love into action by helping her fulfill her longtime wishes.



A Silent Voice
Bullying is a common theme in manga but author Oima Yoshitoki refreshingly looks at the issue from a bully-turned-victim's perspective in her highly praised manga A Silent Voice. In elementary school, Ishida Shoya constantly bullies hearing-impaired classmate Nishimiya Shoko, who ends up transferring to another school. His violent actions are quickly revealed and he becomes the outcast at school. Years later, high schooler Shoya plans to punish himself by committing suicide but he decides to take responsibility for his mistakes. Despite its limited running time, the anime adaptation accurately delivers the original's key messages about self-discovery and redemption. Sound is important in communication but effective communication can only be attained when people truly listen to and feel each other from within their hearts.



Someone
Though Twitter has expanded its character limit to 280, the emphasis on brevity is still unchanged. Miura Daisuke's Someone, based on Asai Ryo's award-winning 2012 novel, interestingly compares tweeting to the self-introduction during a job interview, which also requires a highly organized and concise account of oneself. Takuto (Satoh Takeru) and his friends – including his music-loving roommate Kamiya (Suda Masaki) and longtime crush Mizuki (Arimura Kasumi), as well as ambitious Rica (Nikaido Fumi) and her patronizing boyfriend Miyamoto (Okada Masaki) – always share their feelings on Twitter, but they are pressured to compromise their true selves to conform to the norms of society. The sarcastic plot twist in the second half, which retells the whole story from Takuto's omniscient point of view, creates unexpected edge-of-the-seat tension and inspires reflection on the definition of success.



With Prisoners
Debates over whether punishment or rehabilitation should be emphasized in Hong Kong's correctional system have taken place for years. In his directorial debut With Prisoners, Andrew Wong adopts a near documentary approach to offer a realistic depiction of the brutal lives of juvenile offenders in Hong Kong's youth detention centers. Gang leader Fan (Nick Yau) is put behind bars after assaulting a police officer. Unable to cope with the abusive and inhuman treatment in jail, he attempts to hang himself. After getting saved, he grits his teeth and conforms to the unreasonable prison norms in order to see his dying grandmother as soon as possible. Fan's story reveals the sad truth about those who struggle and give way to social injustice in order to seek a false peace.






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Published December 14, 2017


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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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